“Benin/Togo” Region

Is “Benin/Togo” really pinpointing origins from within Benin’s borders?

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Source: Ancestry.com

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For other detailed maps showing the ethnolinguistical distribution in Benin & Togo see this page (scroll down).


Gbe languages spoken in Benin, Togo and eastern Ghana


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Benin&Togo comparison


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Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)


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Intercolonial trade (O Malley 2009)

Source: “Beyond the Middle Passage: Slave Migration from the Caribbean to North America, 1619-1807”, : (G. O’Malley, 2009), The William and Mary Quarterly, 66, (1), 125-172.


One of the most surprising outcomes of my survey of AncestryDNA results across the Afro-Diaspora has been the higher than expected average scores for “Benin/Togo” seen for African Americans and also Anglo-Caribbeans, especially Jamaicans. It is surprising because even given individual variation and many possibilities of “real” Beninese ancestry to some (minor) degree, documented Trans Atlantic slave trade data does not seem to support such a consistently high average level of “Benin/Togo” for the Anglo-Caribbean and even less so for the USA. We can see this clearly in the second chart above generated from the Slave Voyages Database. If we compare the percentages of the Bight of Benin with the calculated shares of total African for “Benin/Togo” according to AncestryDNA there are major discrepancies especially for Jamaica and the USA (Louisiana being a notable exception but not really representative for the rest of the States). It’s intriguing to think about what might possibly be causing this outcome. The following three scenario’s i will mention can perhaps provide partial explanations for the unexpectedly high “Benin/Togo” percentages being reported but as a fair warning in advance they are also speculative!

The slave voyage data from Barbados indicates that especially in earlier timeperiods (1600’s and early 1700’s) there was indeed a significant inflow of captives from Benin arriving in the West Indies. And possibly by way of Inter-Colonial Slave Trade these captives were also partially brought over to Jamaica when its plantation economy was being set up in the late 1600’s as well as to the US. According to a latest study (O’Malley, 2014) this Inter-Colonial Slave Trade route would amount to about 15% of overall slave importations for the Thirteen Colonies, being more pronounced for some states than others (see last chart).

Even inspite of the prevailing brutal living conditions in the Caribbean – causing negative reproduction rates in general – it might possibly be that cumulative founder effects were set in motion by those people who did manage to survive the ordeal and passed on their genes to the first generations of locally born slaves in the Caribbean as well as to some degree in the USA. So it would seem in this case the inherited “Benin/Togo” markers could be signalling genuine Beninese ancestry, especially from the Fon and other Gbe speaking groups who would have had a relatively larger presence during these earlier timeperiods.

Another undocumented source of genuine Beninese origins i can think of is that despite being shipped away from the socalled “Gold Coast” (and also counted as such in the slave trade data above) a higher than expected number of these captives (often just assumed to be Akan speakers) might actually originally have been from the Benin/Togo area. Which is to say that the proportion of Gbe speaking people among Gold Coast captives might have been underestimated. Only ending up in the European slave ports along the Gold Coast instead of the Bight of Benin because of coastal shipping or overland routes.

A third possibility being that the illegal slave trade taking place after 1807/1808 and also involving the Bight of Benin (e.g. the Clotilde voyage in 1859) was greater than imagined sofar. However given the very low reported rate of African born slaves in the USA throughout the 1800’s and the documented early creolization of American slaves in general this option seems least likely to offer an overall explanation for the high averages of reported “Benin/Togo”, although in selected individual cases it could very well be.


Genetic overlap with other regions?

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Ghana outlier (white paper)

Source: Ethnicity Estimate White Paper by Ancestry.com


Benin’s largest ethnic group is the Fon (39%), followed by the Adja (15%), Yoruba (12%) and Bariba (9%). Togo’s largest ethnic groups are the Ewe (21%), Kabye (12%), Mina (3.2%) and Kotokoli (3.2%). Benin has more ethnic ties to its neighbor Nigeria; Togo has more links to Ghana. These ethnic ties are the result of long-standing kingdoms that flourished before European colonists created new borders.” (Ancestry.com)

Many people in Togo and Benin speak one of about 20 related Gbe languages. Linguistic evidence indicates that most of the Gbe people came from the east in several migrations between the 10th and 15th centuries. The Gbe were pushed westward during a series of wars with the Yoruba people of Nigeria, then settled in Tado on the Mono River (in present-day Togo).” (Ancestry.com)

Ninety-six single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and seventeen short tandem repeat (STRs) were investigated on the Y-chromosome of 288 unrelated healthy individuals from populations in Benin (Bariba, Yoruba, and Fon) and the Ivory Coast (Ahizi and Yacouba). We performed a multidimensional scaling analysis based on FST and RST genetic distances using a large extensive database of sub-Saharan African populations. There is more genetic homogeneity in Ivory Coast populations compared with populations from Benin. ” (Genetic population study of Y-chromosome markers in Benin and Ivory Coast ethnic groups“, 2015)


Given the fact that AncestryDNA tested Africans themselves also show regionally mixed testresults (usually only neighbouring and overlapping regions, see also this pageit is wise to be careful in drawing premature conclusions and also consider other ancestral options. In the screenshots above we can see that prudence is also called for by Ancestry.com itself. Especially the apparent existence of Ghanaian reference panel candidates scoring over 90% “Benin/Togo” gives food for thought. Ancestry.com was careful to remove this single sample for good reasons however it’s a very clear indication of the overlap between Ghanaian and Beninese samples utilized by AncestryDNA as can be seen in the first screenshot above. In this very insightful plot it is shown that the “Benin/Togo” and “Ivory Coast/Ghana” regions cluster the closest from all other African regions on AncestryDNA. And furthermore the samples from Benin/Togo and Ghana/Ivory Coast are the only ones that seem to overlap to some degree. Suggesting that they’re genetically very close indeed and there might be some incorrect assignment between the two as it would be impossible to make any distinction in some cases.

There are several possible reasons why this should be so (see also more detailed discussion on the AncestryDNA Regions page). But it’s probably mostly due to widespread ancient shared ancestry across Ghana, Togo and Benin, extending into southern Nigeria a putative home land of many Kwa/Gbe speaking groups, as well as being correlated with ethnic background in Ghana. Especially the non-Akan groups (more than half of the total population of Ghana) and particularly the Ewe (who also live in Togo and are Gbe speakers just like many ethnic groups from Benin) possibly possessing a higher degree of “Benin/Togo” markers. Counterintuitive perhaps at first but still very insightful if you are aware of the relevant context. As can be verified from the one single AncestryDNA result i have obtained sofar for a quite likely Ewe person below. However i suppose due to widespread ethnic intermarriage “Benin/Togo” DNA markers could probably also show up for Akan speakers themselves.

Again the country name labeling of the AncestryDNA regions should therefore not be taken at face value. “Benin/Togo” might signify different and wideranging ethnical roots also outside of Benin’s borders depending on your own nationality. For Haitians (whose results do show the highest average score among Afro-Diasporeans for this region as expected, see very first chart above) and Brazilians this category is indeed very likely to be derived from the Fon, Adja or Yoruba. Given their confirmed and well documented ancestral/cultural connections to Benin and Yorubaland. For African Americans and Anglo-Caribbeans “Benin/Togo” is perhaps more likely indicative of Ewe or other types of non-Akan ancestry from Ghana/Togo.

Additionally also Nigerians (even Igbo’s!) might have carried over some ancient “Benin/Togo” component into the genepool of African Americans, Jamaicans & other Anglo-Caribbeans.  Even more so than for Ghanaians showing “Benin/Togo” markers in their genome the “Benin/Togo” labeling is misleading for Nigerians as it misrepresents the most likely east to west direction of geneflow for these DNA markers. It is perhaps best to consider this a component “X”, originating within Nigeria but nowadays seen most frequently (but not exclusively!) among people from Benin/Togo because of ancient migrations, shared origins and founding effects.

We can verify this by reviewing the two AncestryDNA results shown below for persons of confirmed fully Igbo and Yoruba ancestry. As expected because of geographical proximity the Yoruba person shows a greater degree of “Benin/Togo” than the Igbo person, but for both it is very substantial. They are of course only individual results (see the very first chart for a group average calculated by myself and this graph for the samples used by Ancestry.com) but in theory any Yoruba or Igbo ancestor having a similar genetic profile could have passed on “Benin/Togo” markers to their American-born descendants. For Jamaicans the Yoruba option is likely to be more relevant than it is for African Americans because of the additional arrival of socalled “Nago” contract labourers after the Abolition of slavery. But for both i suppose at least a minor degree of socalled “Benin/Togo” could very well also have found its way in their AncestryDNA results by way of Igbo or Biafran ancestry.

Each case to be judged on its own merits naturally and depending also on any possible additional clues. All things being the same i suppose for people with “Benin/Togo” reported as number 1 main region a Biafran explanation might be least likely and other more plausible scenario’s should be explored. However each of the above described ethnic options or also a combination to any degree could still be possible in individual cases 😉 Right now there’s just no way of making the distinction. Perhaps with an upcoming update there will be more clarity. But even so a perfect measure of “genuine” Beninese ancestry might never truly be possible due to artificial manmade borders and a high degree of genetic similarity between neighbouring ethnic groups. In the end all of these ancestral clusters and regions are afterall constructs much like the very concept of “ethnicity” itself.

*** (See also this page (scroll down for Ghana) for other ethnic maps.)



ghana ethnic breakdown

Languages spoken in Ghana


Ghanaian AncestryDNA results


Results of a Ghanaian person with a very likely Ewe background from Peki/Volta region


Nigerian AncestryDNA results

See also this separate page featuring over 15 results:



Results of a Nigerian with Yoruba background



Results of a Nigerian with Igbo background




13 gedachten over ““Benin/Togo” Region

    • I just wanted to point out too that I manage Nigerian kits (1 Igbo, 2 Yoruba & 1 Efik) via AncestryDNA and Benin/Togo is the top regional cluster. among two of them, I also think that a sizable degree of Benin/Togo appearing among African Americans is connected to Ewe genetics, though not the only of course. I think it would be great if we (if you haven’t already started) create a catalog of ethnic groups that map to AncestryDNA’s regional clusters. It could very likely help to predict better ancestry regional affiliations more precisely (semi-precisely). For example, we know that southern Nigerians (East-West) almost certainly map to the Nigeria and Benin/Togo regional clusters. As well we know that Fula and Cape Verdeans map to Senegal and Mali. What if we build a large ethnic-regional cluster mapping directory? It’s something to consider, right?

      Liked by 1 persoon

  1. I am jamaican and took the ancestry DNA Test. I am a descendent of Mooretown, the Maroon community in Portland, easter Jamaica near Port antonio. I know that my great great grandmother/grandfather spoke Twi or a version of it. Yet when I did my test, i was found to have only 10% ghana/ivory coast and 40% benin/togo. I have met many Ghanaians in American and they have ALL told me that I look like them! I have also met people from Bein/Togo, and I have never been told that I have any resembles to them. One person have told me that the Haitian people in New York City resembles them. I have looked at pictures of both sets of people, and generally I see no resembles between us Jamaicans and people from Benin/Togo, but its quite obvious as a Jamaican that we resemble the people from Ghana. I know that looks is not all to determining genetic relationships, but i sense that ancestry.com is completely off withs assignment of DNA to people of Ghana-Ivory/Benin-Togo. They seem to have a hard time distinguishing the two, and this may be the only reason for the discrepancies listed above!

    Liked by 1 persoon

    • Thanks for your comment! You have a very interesting background! What were your complete results? I would love to include a screenshot of your results on my blog as i find them very educational! I am currently preparing a new blog page in which i will provide a summary and analysis of my surveyfindings of 100 Jamaican AncestryDNA results. Your participation in my survey would be extremely helpful! I already have collected 96 Jamaican results which can be seen via this online spreadsheet:

      Jamaican AncestryDNA results

      If you’re okay with it please share your ethnicity estimates with me (FonteFelipe) by following these steps:

      – Sign in to Ancestry.com
      – Click the DNA tab and select Your DNA Results Summary
      – Click the Settings button on the right side of the page
      – Scroll down to the sharing DNA results section
      – Enter my Ancestry username which is FonteFelipe
      – Select role of guest
      – Click the SEND INVITATION button

      Thxs in advance!


  2. Hi I was wondering if you could possibly assist me. I’m mixed race 51% African the breakdown is 32% Nigerian, 13% Benin/Togo, 4% Mali, 1% each s.africa & Ghana. I understand Benin/Togo can be considered both Nigeria or Ghana. I’m finding it a little confusing. How would you read these results? Thank you in advance


    • Without any additional context i cannot tell you that much beyond speculation. However it might be telling that your “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score is only 1%. It *might* be indicative that your “Benin/Togo”% is more so related to your predominant Nigeria amount. If you like to zoom into closer detail of your possible ethnic lineage, i recommend you start searching for African DNA matches. I have recently blogged about it:

      How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry


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